The red dot in the bottom of this colorized IR spectrum photograph
may be the first planet outside our solar system to be captured on film. Pending scrutiny to see if it is a optical artifact, or a image from another telescope.
First Image of a Faraway Planet?
A speck hundreds of light-years away appears to be the first extrasolar planet caught on film
9/10/2004 4:31 PM
Worlds away: Thought to be the first picture of an extrasolar planet, the red dot at left appears to orbit the brown dwarf in the center of this near-infrared image
A distant speck of light appears to be the first planet outside our solar system to be captured on film.
While there is no definitive evidence that the speck is a planet, an international team of astronomers is arguing the case.
"The thrill of seeing this faint source of light in real-time on the instrument display was unbelievable," says team member Christophe Dumas. "Although it is surely much bigger than a terrestrial-size object, it is a strange feeling that it may indeed be the first planetary system beyond our own ever imaged."
Small and light
Of the more than 120 extrasolar planets astronomers have detected, all have been discovered indirectly by measuring such things as a planet's gravitational pull on its parent star.
In the past few years, astronomers have caught images of faint objects near bright stars that were thought to be extrasolar planets but turned out to be stellar companions, background stars or other objects.
In April of this year, a team of European and American astronomers detected a faint, red point of light near a brown dwarf object known as 2M1207. The object is a member of the TW Hydrae stellar association, in the direction of the constellation Hydra, about 230 light-years away.
The object is more than 100 times as faint as 2M1207. It was discovered using one of four giant telescopes at the European Southern Observatory Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. The instrument produces sharp, near-infrared images using adaptive optics to overcome distortion caused by atmospheric turbulence.
Using the observatory, the astronomers obtained the planet's near-infrared spectrum in June of this year. It showed the signature of water molecules, confirming that the object must be small and light.
"Giant Planet Candidate Companion"
Based on the object's infrared colors, spectral data and model calculations, the astronomers think that the object is a five-Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the brown dwarf.
They say, however, that there's a probability—statistically very low—that the object is an older cool brown dwarf.
For now, they're simply calling the object "Giant Planet Candidate Companion."
They will next take observations to see whether its motion is compatible with a planet orbiting the brown dwarf, which should become evident within one to two years.
"If the candidate companion of 2M1207 is really a planet, this would be the first time that a gravitationally bound exoplanet has been imaged around a star or a brown dwarf," says team member Benjamin Zuckerman.
A research paper on the object has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
That's where the DU'ers come from.
Yes the RED PLANET